Cook the Books – Idiom, Origin and Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Just imagine if idioms were literal. A saying like “cook the books” would conjure up a whole new image, wouldn’t it? But, alas, idioms are figurative and metaphorical, so we need to understand the deeper meaning behind them in order to use them properly. Let’s take a look at the saying “cook the books” and find out just how you should be using it.

Cooking the Books: Meaning Explained

Cook the Books Idiom Origin Meaning

“Cooking the books” is a colloquial expression we use in English to describe manipulating financial records fraudulently or deceptively. The whole idea is usually undertaken by people or businesses to make them look more financially successful than they are or hide how much money they made to cheat on taxes.

But why do people cook books? Lots of reasons. They might want to mislead their investors, stay within a certain tax bracket, or even meet certain financial targets and goals. To get more specific, it entails over-reporting money made, under-reporting expenses, and inflating assets.

Needless to say, it’s not something you should be doing.

Origin of the Phrase Cook the Books

The term “cook” has been used colloquially in various languages to mean “falsify” or “manipulate” since at least the 17th century. “Cooking the books” draws a parallel between the alteration of ingredients in cooking and the alteration of entries in accounting books. The phrase has been used in the context of financial deception since at least the early 20th century.

What Is the Technical Term for Cook the Books?

The fancy technical term for cooking the books is “financial statement fraud” or “accounting fraud” as a whole. But you can cook the books in smaller ways to achieve specific results like tax evasion and inflation.

Cooking the Books Synonyms

Don’t want to use the phrase “cook the books”? Then you can try any of these sayings with the same meaning.

  • Creative accounting
  • Financial manipulation
  • Falsifying financial records
  • Fraudulent financial reporting
  • Manipulating the numbers
  • Window dressing

Cooking the Books Examples in a Sentence

Cook the Books Idiom Origin Meaning 1
  • The popular tech company was accused of cooking the books to inflate their stock price and was recently found guilty.
  • After the audit, it became clear that the CFO of the toy company had been cooking the books for years to keep investors happy.
  • The accountant went to jail for cooking the books and defrauding investors for his clients.
  • The marketing manager was fired from her position after she was caught cooking the books to meet her sales targets and impress the boss.
  • The startup quickly faced bankruptcy after a silent partner revealed they’d been cooking the books to secure funding.

Don’t Cook the Books

So, there you go, guys. Cooking the books is bad, but it’s a common saying we use to describe people or even whole businesses that use the methods to fabricate their financial records, whether it’s to show they made more or less, depending on their goals.